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Cronkite was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, the son of Helen Lena (née Fritsche, August 1892 - November 1993) and Dr. Walter Leland Cronkite (September 1893 - May 1973), a dentist. He had remote Dutch ancestry on his father's side, the family surname originally being Krankheyt
Cronkite lived in Kansas City, Missouri, until he was ten, when his family moved to Houston, Texas. He attended junior high school at Lanier Junior High School (now Lanier Middle School) and high school at San Jacinto High School, where he edited the high school newspaper. He was a member of the Boy Scouts. He attended college at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), where he worked on the Daily Texan and became a member of the Nu chapter of the Chi Phi Fraternity. He also was a member of the Houston chapter of DeMolay, a Masonic fraternal organization for boys. While attending UT, Cronkite had his first taste of performance, appearing in a play with fellow students Eli Wallach and Ann Sheridan.
Cronkite's family was Protestant and changed their denomination three times while he was a child.Cronkite himself joined the Episcopal church as a youth, explaining in a 1994 interview: "I got into a Boy Scout troop that met in an Episcopal church. The church had a wonderful minister who was also the scoutmaster. And I suppose you can say he proselytized me. At any rate, I was much involved with the church, and became Episcopalian - and an acolyte. Later, when I worked for a paper in Houston, I was church editor for a while. The Episcopal House of Bishops met in Houston one year, and I became intrigued by the leaders of the church — fascinated by their discussions and their erudition."
He dropped out of college in his junior year, in 1935, after starting a series of newspaper reporting jobs covering news and sports. He entered broadcasting as a radio announcer for WKY in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In 1936, he met his future wife, Mary Elizabeth Maxwell (known by her nickname "Betsy"), while working as the sports announcer for KCMO (AM) in Kansas City, Missouri. His broadcast name was "Walter Wilcox". He would explain later that radio stations at the time did not want people to use their real names for fear of taking their listeners with them if they left. In Kansas City, he joined the United Press in 1937. He became one of the top American reporters in World War II, covering battles in North Africa and Europe. He was one of eight journalists selected by the United States Army Air Forces to fly bombing raids over Germany in a B-17 Flying Fortress. He also landed in a glider with the 101st Airborne in Operation Market-Garden and covered the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he covered the Nuremberg trials and served as the United Press main reporter in Moscow for two years.
Early years at CBS
In 1950, Cronkite joined CBS News in its young and growing television division, recruited by Edward R. Murrow, who had previously tried to hire Cronkite from UP during the war. Cronkite began working at WTOP-TV, the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C.. He originally served as anchor of the network's 15-minute late-Sunday-evening newscast Up To the Minute, which followed What's My Line? at 11:00pm ET from
1951 through 1962.
Although it is widely reported that the term "anchor" was coined to describe Cronkite's role at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, marking the first nationally-televised convention coverage, other news presenters bore the title before him. Cronkite anchored the network's coverage of the 1952 presidential election as well as later conventions. In 1964 he was temporarily replaced by the team of Robert Trout and Roger Mudd; this proved to be a mistake, and Cronkite returned to the anchor chair for future political conventions.
From 1953 to 1957, Cronkite hosted the CBS program You Are There, which reenacted historical events, using the format of a news report. His famous last line for these programs was: "What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times ... and you were there." In 1971, the show was revived and redesigned to attract an audience of teenagers and young adults on Saturday mornings. He also hosted The Twentieth Century, a documentary series about important historical events of the century comprised almost exclusively of newsreel footage and interviews. It became a long-running hit (it was renamed The Twenty-First Century in 1967). Cronkite also hosted It's News to Me, a game show based on news events.
Another of his network assignments was The Morning Show, CBS' short-lived challenge to NBC's Today in 1954. His on-air duties included interviewing guests and chatting with a lion puppet named Charlemane about the news. He considered this discourse with a puppet as "one of the highlights" of the show. He added, "A puppet can render opinions on people and things that a human commentator would not feel free to utter. I was and I am proud of it."Cronkite also angered the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the show's sponsor, by grammatically correcting its advertising slogan. Instead of saying "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" verbatim, he substituted "as" for "like."
He was the lead broadcaster of the network's coverage of the 1960 Winter Olympics, the first-ever time such an event was televised in the United States. He replaced Jim McKay, who had suffered a mental breakdown.
The CBS Evening News
On April 16, 1962, Cronkite succeeded Douglas Edwards as anchorman of the CBS Evening News (initially Walter Cronkite with the News), a job in which he became an American icon. The program expanded from 15 to 30 minutes on September 2, 1963, making Cronkite the anchor of American network television's first nightly half-hour news program.
During the early part of his tenure anchoring the CBS Evening News, Cronkite competed against NBC's anchor team of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, who anchored the Huntley-Brinkley Report. For most of the 1960s, the Huntley-Brinkley Report had more viewers than Cronkite's broadcast. This began to change in the late 1960s, as RCA made a corporate decision not to fund NBC News at the levels CBS funded CBS News. Consequently, CBS News acquired a reputation for greater accuracy and depth in its broadcast journalism. This reputation meshed nicely with Cronkite's wire service experience, and in 1968 the CBS Evening News began to surpass The Huntley-Brinkley Report in viewership during the summer months.
In 1969, during the Apollo 11 (with co-host and former astronaut Wally Schirra) and Apollo 13 moon missions, Cronkite received the best ratings and made CBS the most-watched television network for the missions. In 1970, when Huntley retired, the CBS Evening News finally dominated the American TV news viewing audience. Although NBC finally settled on the skilled and well-respected broadcast journalist John Chancellor, Cronkite proved to be more popular and continued to be top-rated until his retirement in 1981.
One of Cronkite's trademarks was ending the CBS Evening News with the phrase "...And that's the way it is," followed by the date. Keeping to standards of objective journalism, he omitted this phrase on nights when he ended the newscast with opinion or commentary. Beginning with January 16, 1980, Day 50 of the Iran hostage crisis, Cronkite added the length of the hostages' captivity to the show's closing to remind the audience of the unresolved situation, ending only on Day 444, January 20, 1981.
Historic moments as anchor
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Cronkite announcing the death of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963
Cronkite is vividly remembered by many Americans for breaking the news of the death of President Kennedy on Friday, November 22, 1963. Cronkite had been standing at the United Press International wire machine in the CBS newsroom as the bulletin of the President's shooting broke and clamored to get on the air to break the news. However, since the cameras and lights of the time period required time to set and warm up, a camera was not available for Cronkite to use and the network would be forced to improvise in order to report the story.
While the news was breaking, CBS was approximately ten minutes into its live broadcast of the soap opera As the World Turns (ATWT). A "CBS News Bulletin" bumper slide abruptly broke in to the broadcast at 1:40 pm EST. Over the slide, Cronkite began reading what was the first of three audio-only bulletins that were filed in the next twenty minutes:
"Here is a bulletin from CBS News. In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting."
A second bulletin arrived as Cronkite was reading the first one, which detailed the severity of President Kennedy's wounds:
"More details just arrived. These details about the same as previously...President Kennedy shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy, she called "Oh no!," the motorcade sped on. United Press [International] says that the wounds for President Kennedy perhaps could be fatal. Repeating, a bulletin from CBS News: President Kennedy has been shot by a would-be assassin in Dallas, Texas. Stay tuned to CBS News for further details."
Just before the bulletin cut out, a CBS News staffer was heard saying "Connally too," apparently having just heard the news that Texas Governor John Connally had also been shot while riding in the Presidential limousine with his wife Nellie and Mr. and Mrs. Kennedy.
CBS then rejoined the telecast of ATWT during a commercial break. A commercial for Instant Nescafe coffee and a sponsor bumper (for Best Foods) for the first half of the show that had just completed were then aired, followed by a bumper for the scheduled episode of Route 66 to air that night and a twenty-second station identification break for the CBS affiliates. Just as ATWT was set to return from break, with show announcer Dan McCullough set to announce the sponsor of the second half of the program (Carnation), CBS broke in with the bumper slide a second time. This bulletin saw Cronkite report in greater detail about the assassination attempt on the President, while also breaking the news of Governor Connally's shooting.
"Here is a bulletin from CBS News. Further details on an assassination attempt against President Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. President Kennedy was shot as he drove from Dallas Airport to downtown Dallas; Governor Connally of Texas, in the car with him, was also shot. It is reported that three bullets rang out. A Secret Service man has been...was heard to shout from the car, "He's dead." Whether he referred to President Kennedy or not is not yet known. The President, cradled in the arms of his wife Mrs. Kennedy, was carried to an ambulance and the car rushed to Parkland Hospital outside Dallas, the President was taken to an emergency room in the hospital. Other White House officials were in doubt in the corridors of the hospital as to the condition of President Kennedy. Repeating this bulletin: President Kennedy shot while driving in an open car from the airport in Dallas, Texas, to downtown Dallas."
Cronkite then recapped the events as they had happened: that the President and Governor Connally had been shot and were in the emergency room at Parkland Hospital, and no one knew their condition as yet. He then reminded the viewers that CBS News would continue to provide updates as more information came in.
CBS then decided to return to ATWT, which was now midway through its second segment. The cast had continued to perform live while Cronkite's bulletins broke into the broadcast, apparently unaware of events in Dallas. ATWT then took another scheduled commercial break. The segment before the break would be the last anyone would see of a CBS program- or any network's programming, for that matter- until Tuesday, November 26.
In the middle of a Friskies pet food commercial, the "CBS News Bulletin" bumper slide broke in for the third time. Once again, Cronkite filed an audio-only report:
"Here is a bulletin from CBS News...President Kennedy has been the victim of an assassin's bullet in Dallas, Texas. It is not known as yet whether the President survived the attack against him."
This particular bulletin went into even more detail than the other two, as for the first time Cronkite detailed where the shooting victims were wounded (Kennedy had been shot in the head, Connally in the chest). At the conclusion of the bulletin, Cronkite told viewers to stay tuned for further details, perhaps implying that the network would be returning to regular programming. However, Cronkite remained on the air for the next ten minutes, continuing to read bulletins as they were handed to him, followed by recapping the events as they were known and interspersing the new information he had received where appropriate. He also brought up recent instances of assassination attempts against sitting Presidents (including the murder of Mayor of Chicago Anton Cermak in a botched assassination attempt on then-President-elect Franklin Roosevelt), as well as a recent attack on United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson in Dallas, which had resulted in extra security measures being taken for Kennedy's visit to the city. He also received word that Congressman Albert Thomas of Texas had been told that for the moment the President and Governor were still alive.
By 2:00 EST, Cronkite was informed that the camera was ready, and he told the viewers over the air that CBS would be taking a station identification break so that affiliates could join the network. Within twenty seconds, all the CBS affiliates (with the exception of KRLD in Dallas, which was covering the tragedy locally) joined the network's coverage. Cronkite appeared on-air in shirt and tie but without his suit coat, given the urgent nature of the story, and opened with this:
"This is Walter Cronkite in our newsroom... there has been an attempt, as perhaps you know now, on the life of President Kennedy. He was wounded in an automobile driving from Dallas Airport into downtown Dallas, along with Governor Connally of Texas. They have been taken to Parkland Hospital there, where their condition is as yet unknown. We have not been told of their condition at Dallas. In the downtown hotel room, a group [a Dallas Trade Mart meeting] had been gathered to hear President Kennedy and was awaiting his arrival. Let's switch down there now where Eddie Barker of KRLD is on the air."
However, the connection was not available at the time and the camera stayed trained on Cronkite in the newsroom. After a few seconds, Cronkite started speaking again, but shortly after he had begun, the broadcast abruptly cut into the meeting, where Barker, KRLD's news director, was reporting (a director could be heard on-air saying "Okay, go ahead. Switch it" while Cronkite was talking). He said that the President was still alive (as Cronkite had been told by the report from Congressman Thomas earlier and directly by Congressman Jim Wright just moments before Barker's report was filed). About five minutes later, Barker reported that rumors had begun to circulate that Kennedy was in fact dead.
Cronkite reappeared several minutes after Barker reported that Kennedy was rumored to have been killed, advising that two priests had been called to Kennedy's bedside, although the reason was not made clear. He also played an audio report by KRLD's Jim Underwood, recounting that someone had been arrested in the assassination attempt at the Texas School Book Depository. After Underwood's report, Cronkite was told that KRLD was reporting that that the President was dead, and Barker was reporting that he had been told by a doctor at Parkland Hospital of the President's death. While the coverage continued at the Dallas Trade Mart meeting, Barker said that the assassination was officially confirmed, but neither the Associated Press nor United Press International had yet confirmed it. He then retracted the statement, saying that it still had yet to officially be confirmed that the President was dead. Shortly thereafter, CBS stopped showing KRLD's coverage and returned to its own coverage of the incident.
As he had been doing, Cronkite again reported the events as they were known. At 2:27 PM EST, word reached Cronkite of a report filed by Dallas bureau chief Dan Rather that stated that the President was dead, but this report, too, was unconfirmed. Rather's report had been originally given to CBS Radio, which relayed the report as if Kennedy actually was dead (which, although sources had yet to confirm it, had been true for 27 minutes). After some debate in the newsroom at the time on whether to air the report, Cronkite delivered the news to the nation. Since Rather's report, as he had delivered it, only theorized that the President was dead, and no word to that effect had come from any wire service, Cronkite stressed that the report was not an official confirmation of the President's death and continued to report on the incident as if the President was still alive.
Cronkite later reported that Father Oscar Huber, the priest called in to administer Last Rites to the President, did not believe that Kennedy was dead at that time, seeming to contradict what Barker and Rather had been reporting (and contrary to what Huber had told other reporters on the scene, as he had said Kennedy was dead when he entered the room and he had to pull back a sheet covering his body). Less than two minutes later, Cronkite received a report that the two priests who were with Kennedy were now saying that he was dead, and declared that that was as close to official as they could get. However, he continued to stress that there was no official confirmation from the hospital of Kennedy's death (although his words seemed to indicate that this was the most likely outcome).
Cronkite continued to report for the next several minutes while still waiting for official word of the President's apparent death. While continuing to affirm that there was no official confirmation, he reminded viewers that the priests, Rather, and several government sources were relaying word that in fact Kennedy was dead. (It should be noted that only one network- ABC- had reported that Kennedy was dead despite no official word having come, using the same government sources report that Cronkite had dismissed as unofficial.)
At approximately 2:38 p.m. EST, Cronkite was remarking on the increased security presence in Dallas for the President's visit for fear of protests, again bringing up the assault on Adlai Stevenson. While he was speaking, one of two news editors who had been standing by the newsroom's two wire machines pulled a bulletin from the Associated Press machine and began walking toward Cronkite's desk with it.
"At the airport in Dallas, the uh..., and throughout the streets of Dallas, the Dallas Police have been augmented by some 400 policemen called in on their day off because there were some fears and concerns in Dallas that, uh...that there might be demonstrations, at least, that could embarrass the President. Because it was only on October 24 that our ambassador of the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, was assaulted in Dallas leaving a dinner meeting there..."
Just as he had said that, the editor handed Cronkite the bulletin. Cronkite stopped speaking, put on his eyeglasses, looked over the bulletin sheet for a moment, took off his glasses, and made the official announcement:
From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: (reading AP flash) "President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time." (glancing up at clock) 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago.
After making that announcement, Cronkite paused briefly, put his glasses back on, and swallowed hard to maintain his composure. With noticeable emotion in his voice he intoned the next sentence of the news report:
"Vice President Johnson (cough) has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded. Presumably, he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th president of the United States."
With emotion still in his voice and eyes watering, Cronkite once again recapped the events after collecting himself, this time incorporating wire photos of Kennedy's visit to Fort Worth that had been taken during the day and telling viewers what the pictures signified. After that, Cronkite reminded the viewers one final time that it had now been confirmed that the President was dead, that Vice President Johnson was now the President and was to be sworn in (which had occurred just as Cronkite received the bulletin confirming the President's death), that Governor Connally's condition was still unknown but many reports said that he was still alive, and that there was no report of whether the assassin had been captured (despite the earlier reports of arrests at the Texas School Book Depository). He then tossed coverage of the events to colleague Charles Collingwood and left the newsroom. He reappeared at approximately 3:30 PM EST and stayed about an hour, during which time he provided further details, including the swearing-in ceremony of President Johnson and the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald. He then left his anchor chair for the second time, once again having Collingwood (and later Harry Reasoner) take over until he returned to anchor The CBS Evening News as scheduled.
Two days later, at 2:33 PM EST on November 24, Cronkite broke into CBS's coverage of the memorial services in Washington to relay news regarding a situation that Reasoner had earlier broken into the funeral coverage to report:
"From our CBS newsroom in New York, a bulletin: Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who Dallas police say killed President Kennedy, himself is dead. He was cut down by a single bullet an hour and fifteen minutes before he died in Parkland Hospital in a room just ten feet from that room where President Kennedy died. He was being taken from the Dallas City Jail to the Dallas County Jail but in the basement of the Dallas City Jail, before he left that building, he was shot. The man Dallas police seized at the scene and are holding has been identified as Jack Rubenstein, known in Dallas as Jack Ruby, a man who years ago moved to Dallas from Chicago and was operating two nightclubs, and well-known nightclubs, in Dallas. He is fifty-two years old, balding, with black hair. He is being held by the Dallas police, who say they will charge him with the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald."
Referring to his coverage of Kennedy's assassination, in a 2006 TV interview with Nick Clooney, Cronkite recalled:
"I choked up, I really had a little trouble...my eyes got a little wet...[what Kennedy had represented] was just all lost to us. Fortunately, I grabbed hold before I was actually "
In a 2003 CBS special commemorating the 40th anniversary of the assassination, Cronkite said that he was standing at the United Press wire machine when the bulletin broke and was clamoring to get on the air as fast as was possible. Recalling his reaction upon having the death confirmed to him, he said:
And when you finally had to say it's official, the President is dead...pretty tough words in a situation like that. And they were, um, hard to come by.
Cronkite reported on location during the Vietnam War.
In mid-February 1968, Cronkite journeyed to Vietnam to report on the aftermath of the Tet Offensive.
Upon return, on February 27, 1968, Cronkite closed "Report from Vietnam: Who, What, When, Where, Why?" with an editorial report:
We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may be right, that Hanoi's winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would also require our realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations must be that -- negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms. For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer's almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.
To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.
Following Cronkite's editorial report, President Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America." Several weeks later, Johnson announced he would not seek reelection.
During the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Cronkite was anchoring the CBS network coverage as violence and protests occurred outside the convention, as well as scuffles inside the convention hall. When Dan Rather was punched to the floor (on camera) by security personnel, Cronkite commented, "I think we've got a bunch of thugs here, Dan."
Other historic events
The first publicly transmitted, live trans-Atlantic program, was broadcast via the Telstar satellite on July 23, 1962 at 3:00 p.m. EDT, and Cronkite was one of the main presenters in this multinational broadcast. The broadcast was made possible in Europe by Eurovision and in North America by NBC, CBS, ABC, and the CBC. The first public broadcast featured CBS's Cronkite and NBC's Chet Huntley in New York, and the BBC's Richard Dimbleby in Brussels. Cronkite was in the New York studio at Rockefeller Plaza as the first pictures to be transmitted and received were the Statue of Liberty in New York and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The first segment included a televised major league baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. From there, the video switched first to Washington, DC; then to Cape Canaveral, Florida; then to Quebec, Canada and finally to Stratford, Ontario. The Washington segment included a press conference with President Kennedy, talking about the price of the American dollar, which was causing concern in Europe.This broadcast inaugurated live, intercontinental news coverage, which was perfected later in sixties with Early Bird and other Intelsat satellites.
General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower returned to his former Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) headquarters for an interview by Cronkite on the CBS News Special Report D-Day + 20, telecast on June 6, 1964.
Cronkite is also remembered for his coverage of the United States space program, and at times was visibly enthusiastic, rubbing his hands together on camera with a smile and uttering, "Whew...boy" on July 20, 1969, when the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission put the first men on the Moon. Cronkite later criticized himself for being at a loss for journalistic words at that moment.
According to the 2006 PBS documentary on Cronkite, there was "nothing new" in his reports on the Watergate affair; however, Cronkite brought together a wide range of reporting, and his credibility and status is credited by many with pushing the Watergate story to the forefront with the American public, ultimately resulting in the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon on August 9, 1974.Cronkite had anchored the CBS coverage of Nixon's address, announcing his impending resignation, the night before.
Cronkite also was one of the first to receive word of former President Lyndon B. Johnson's death, receiving the information during the January 22, 1973, broadcast of the CBS Evening News. While a videotaped report by Peter Kalischer about the apparently successful Vietnam war peace talks was being shown to the nation, Johnson's press secretary Tom Johnson (no relative of Lyndon Johnson) telephoned Cronkite to inform him of Johnson's death. CBS cut abruptly from the report at 6:38 p.m. Eastern Standard Time to Cronkite, who was still speaking to Johnson on the phone. After holding up a finger to pause and let Johnson finish, he broke the news to the nation that the former President had died, then continued to speak with Johnson (who was not patched through to the air) for a few more seconds to gather whatever remaining details he could, then hung up the phone and relayed those details to the audience. During the final ten minutes of that broadcast, Cronkite reported on the death, giving a retrospective on the life of nation's 36th president, and announced that CBS would air a special on Lyndon Johnson later that evening. This story was re-told on a 2007 CBS-TV special honoring Cronkite's 90th birthday. Tom Johnson later became president of CNN.
NBC-TV's Garrick Utley, anchoring NBC Nightly News that evening, also interrupted his newscast in order to break the story, doing so about three minutes after Cronkite on CBS. ABC, however, did not cover the story at all, since, at the time, that network fed its evening newscast to local stations at 6 p.m. Eastern Time, even though many affiliates tape-delayed the broadcast to air at 6:30 or 7:00 p.m.
On February 14, 1980, Cronkite announced that he intended to retire from the CBS Evening News; at the time, CBS had a policy of mandatory retirement by age 65. Although sometimes compared to a father figure or an uncle figure, in an interview about his retirement he described himself as being more like a "comfortable old shoe" to his audience. By this, he meant that they could "comfortably put their foot in him like a slipper." His last day in the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News was on March 6, 1981; he was succeeded the following Monday by Dan Rather.
Cronkite's farewell statement
“ This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of The CBS Evening News; for me, it's a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we've been meeting like this in the evenings, and I'll miss that. But those who have made anything of this departure, I'm afraid have made too much. This is but a transition, a passing of the baton. A great broadcaster and gentleman, Doug Edwards, preceded me in this job, and another, Dan Rather, will follow. And anyway, the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists; writers, reporters, editors, producers, and none of that will change. Furthermore, I'm not even going away! I'll be back from time to time with special news reports and documentaries, and, beginning in June, every week, with our science program, Universe. Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that's the way it is: Friday, March 6, 1981. I'll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night. ”
As he had promised on his last show as anchor in 1981, Cronkite continued to broadcast occasionally as a special correspondent for CBS, CNN, and NPR into the 21st century; one such occasion was Cronkite anchoring the second space flight by John Glenn in 1998 as he had Glenn's first in 1962. In 1983, he reported on the British General Election for the ITV current affairs series World In Action, interviewing, among many others, the victorious Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Cronkite hosted the annual Vienna New Year's Concert on PBS from 1985 to 2008, succeeded by Julie Andrews in 2009. For many years, until 2002, he was also the host of the annual Kennedy Center Honors.
In 1998, Cronkite hosted the 90-minute documentary, Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, produced by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association. The film documented Silicon Valley's rise from the origin of Stanford University to the current high-technology powerhouse. The documentary was broadcast on PBS throughout the United States and in 26 countries. Prior to 2004, he could also be seen in the opening movie 'Back to Neverland' shown in the Walt Disney World attraction, The Magic of Disney Animation, interviewing Robin Williams as if he is still on the CBS News channel, ending his on-camera time with his famous catchphrase. In the featurette, Cronkite describes the steps taken in the creation of an animated film, while Robin Williams becomes an animated character (and even becomes Walter Cronkite, impersonating his voice). He also was shown inviting Disney guests and tourists to the Disney Classics Theater.
On May 21, 1999, Walter Cronkite participated in a panel discussion on Integrity in the Media with Ben Bradlee and Mike McCurry at the Connecticut Forum in Hartford, Connecticut. Cronkite provided a particularly funny anecdote about taking a picture from a house in Houston, Texas where a newsworthy event occurred and being praised for getting a unique photograph, only to find out later that the city desk had provided him with the wrong address.
Cronkite narrated the IMAX film about the Space Shuttle, The Dream is Alive, released in 1985. From May 26, 1986 to August 15, 1994, he was the narrator's voice in the EPCOT Center attraction, Spaceship Earth, at Walt Disney World. He provided the pivotal voice of Captain Neweyes in the 1993 animated film We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story, delivering his trademark line at the end. In 1995, he made an appearance on Broadway, providing the voice of the titular book in the 1995 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Cronkite was a finalist for NASA's Journalist in Space program, which mirrored the Teacher in Space Project, an opportunity that was suspended after the Challenger disaster in 1986. He recorded voice-overs for the 1995 film Apollo 13, modifying the script he was given to make it more "Cronkitian." In 2002, Cronkite was the voice of Benjamin Franklin in all 40 episodes of the educational television cartoon Liberty's Kids, which included a news segment ending with "And that's the way it is on...[a historic date]." His distinctive voice provided the narration for the television ads of the University of Texas at Austin, his alma mater, with its 'We're Texas' ad campaign.
He held amateur radio operator license KB2GSD and narrated a 2003 American Radio Relay League documentary explaining amateur radio's role in disaster relief. Unusually, Cronkite was a Novice-class licensee—the entry level license—for his entire, and long, tenure in the hobby.
On February 15, 2005, he went into the studio at CBS to record narration for WCC Chatham Radio, a documentary about Guglielmo Marconi and his Chatham station, which became the busiest ship-to-shore wireless station in North America from 1914 to 1994. The documentary was directed by Christopher Seufert of Mooncusser Films and premiered at the Chatham Marconi Maritime Center in April 2005. In May 2009, Legacy of War, produced by PBS, was released. Cronkite chronicles, over archive footage, the events following World War II that resulted in America's rise as the dominant world power.
Prior to his death, "Uncle Walter" hosted a number of TV specials and was featured in interviews about the times and events that occurred during his career as America's "most trusted" man.In July 2006, the 90-minute documentary Walter Cronkite: Witness to History aired on PBS. The special was narrated by Katie Couric, who assumed the CBS Evening News anchor chair in September 2006. Cronkite provided the voiceover introduction to Couric's CBS Evening News, which began on September 5, 2006. Cronkite's voiceover was notably not used on introducing the broadcast reporting his funeral - no voiceover was used on this occasion.
TV and movie appearances
Cronkite made a cameo appearance on the Mary Tyler Moore show, in which he met with Lou Grant in his office. Ted Baxter, who at first tried to convince Cronkite that he (Baxter) was as good a newsman as Eric Sevareid, pleaded with Cronkite to hire him for the network news, at least to give sport scores, and gave an example: "The North Stars 3, the Kings Oh!" Cronkite turned to Lou and said, "I'm gonna get you for this!" Cronkite later said that he was disappointed that his scene was filmed in one take, since he had hoped to sit down and chat with the cast.
In the late 1980s and again in the 1990s, Cronkite appeared on the news-oriented situation comedy Murphy Brown as himself. Both episodes were written by the Emmy-award winning team of Tom Seeley and Norm Gunzenhauser.
Cronkite appeared briefly in the 2005 dramatic documentary The American Ruling Class written by Lewis Lapham, Thirteen Days, reporting on the Cuban missile crisis and provided the opening synopsis of the American Space Program leading to the events in Apollo 13 for the Ron Howard film of the same name.
Walter Cronkite speaks at a NASA ceremony in February 2004
Cronkite wrote a syndicated opinion column for King Features Syndicate. In 2005 and 2006, he contributed to The Huffington Post. Cronkite was the chairman of The Interfaith Alliance. In 2006, he presented the Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award to actor and activist George Clooney on behalf of his organization at its annual dinner in New York.
Cronkite was a vocal advocate for free airtime for political candidates. He worked with the Alliance for Better Campaigns and Common Cause, for instance, on an unsuccessful lobbying effort to have an amendment added to the McCain-Feingold-Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2001 that would have required TV broadcast companies to provide free airtime to candidates. Cronkite criticized the present system of campaign finance which allows elections to "be purchased" by special interests, and he noted that all the European democracies "provide their candidates with extensive free airtime." "In fact," Cronkite pointed out, "of all the major nations worldwide that profess to have democracies, only seven — just seven — do not offer free airtime"This put the United States on a list with Ecuador, Honduras, Malaysia, Taiwan, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago. Cronkite concluded that "The failure to give free airtime for our political campaigns endangers our democracy."During the elections held in 2000, the amount spent by candidates in the major TV markets approached $1 billion. "What our campaign asks is that the television industry yield just a tiny percentage of that windfall, less than 1 percent, to fund free airtime."
He was a member of the Constitution Project's bipartisan Liberty and Security Committee. He also supported the nonprofit world hunger organization Heifer International.
In 1998, he supported President Bill Clinton during Clinton's impeachment trial. He was also a proponent of limited world government on the American federalist model, writing fund-raising letters for the World Federalist Association (now Citizens for Global Solutions). In accepting the 1999 Norman Cousins Global Governance Award at the ceremony at the United Nations, Cronkite said:
"It seems to many of us that if we are to avoid the eventual catastrophic world conflict we must strengthen the United Nations as a first step toward a world government patterned after our own government with a legislature, executive and judiciary, and police to enforce its international laws and keep the peace. To do that, of course, we Americans will have to yield up some of our sovereignty. That would be a bitter pill. It would take a lot of courage, a lot of faith in the new order. But the American colonies did it once and brought forth one of the most nearly perfect unions the world has ever seen."
Cronkite contrasted his support for accountable global government with the opposition to it by politically active Christian fundamentalists in the United States:
"Even as with the American rejection of the League of Nations, our failure to live up to our obligations to the United Nations is led by a handful of willful senators who choose to pursue their narrow, selfish political objectives at the cost of our nation’s conscience.They pander to and are supported by the Christian Coalition and the rest of the religious right wing. Their leader, Pat Robertson, has written that we should have a world government but only when the messiah arrives. Any attempt to achieve world order before that time must be the work of the Devil! Well join me… I'm glad to sit here at the right hand of Satan."
In 2003, Cronkite, who owned property on Martha's Vineyard, became involved in a long-running debate over his opposition to the construction of a wind farm in that area. In his column, he repeatedly condemned President George W. Bush and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Cronkite appeared in the 2004 Robert Greenwald film Outfoxed, where he offered commentary on what he said were unethical and overtly political practices at the Fox News Channel. Cronkite remarked that when Fox News was founded by Rupert Murdoch, "it was intended to be a conservative organization — beyond that; a far-right-wing organization". In January 2006, during a press conference to promote the PBS documentary about his career, Cronkite said that he felt the same way about America's presence in Iraq as he had about their presence in Vietnam in 1968 and that he felt America should recall its troops.
Cronkite spoke out against the War on Drugs in support of the Drug Policy Alliance, writing a fundraising letter and appearing in advertisements on behalf of the DPA. In the letter, Cronkite wrote: "Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens. I am speaking of the war on drugs. And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure."
Cronkite at the helm of the USS Constitution in July 1997.
Cronkite was married for nearly sixty-five years to Mary Elizabeth 'Betsy' Maxwell Cronkite (January 25, 1916 - March 15, 2005), whom he married on March 30, 1940. They remained together until her death from cancer. They had three children: Nancy Cronkite, Mary Kathleen Cronkite (Kathy) Cronkite and Walter Leland (Chip) Cronkite III (who is married to actress Deborah Rush). Cronkite also had four grandchildren Will Ikard, John Ikard, Peter Cronkite and Walter Cronkite IV. Peter and Walter are alumni of St. Bernard's School. Peter Cronkite is currently attending Horace Mann School. Walter attends Hamilton College, having graduated from the same school.
In late 2005 Cronkite began dating opera singer Joanna Simon, Carly Simon's older sister. Of their relationship Cronkite stated in an interview for the New York Post in January 2006: "We are keeping company, as the old phrase used to be."
Cronkite was an avid sailor and a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary, with the honorary rank of commodore. Throughout the 1950s, he was an aspiring sports car racer, even racing in the 1959 12 Hours of Sebring.
In late June 2009, Cronkite was reported to be terminally ill. He died on July 17, 2009, at his home in New York City, at the age of 92. He is believed to have died from cerebrovascular disease. Cronkite's funeral took place on July 23, 2009 at St. Bartholomew's Church in midtown Manhattan, New York City. At his funeral, his friends noted his love of music, including, recently, drumming. He was cremated and his remains buried next to his wife, Betsy, in the family plot at a cemetery in Kansas City.
Public credibility and trustfulness
For many years, until a decade after he left his post as anchor, Cronkite was considered one of the most trusted figures in the United States. For most of his 20 years as anchor, he was the "predominant news voice in America." Affectionately known as "Uncle Walter," he covered many of the important news events of the era so effectively that his image and voice are closely associated with the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and the Watergate scandal. USA Today wrote that "few TV figures have ever had as much power as Cronkite did at his height." Enjoying the cult of personality surrounding Cronkite in those years, CBS allowed some good-natured fun-poking at its star anchorman in some episodes of the network's popular situation comedy All in the Family, during which the lead character Archie Bunker would sometimes complain about the newsman, calling him "Pinko Cronkite."
Cronkite trained himself to speak at a rate of 124 words per minute in his newscasts, so that viewers could clearly understand him. In contrast, Americans average about 165 words per minute, and fast, difficult-to-understand talkers speak close to 200 words per minute.
Awards and honors
In 1968, the faculty of the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University voted to award Cronkite the Carr Van Anda Award "for enduring contributions to journalism." In 1970, Cronkite received a "Freedom of the Press" George Polk Award.
In 1981, the year he retired, Jimmy Carter awarded Cronkite the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1985, Cronkite was honoured with the induction into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. On March 1, 2006, Cronkite became the first non-astronaut to receive NASA's Ambassador of Exploration Award. Among Cronkite's numerous awards were four Peabody awards for excellence in broadcasting.
Cronkite School at Arizona State University
The namesake Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.
A few years after Cronkite retired, Tom Chauncey, an owner of KTSP-TV, the then-CBS affiliate in Phoenix, contacted Cronkite, an old friend, and asked him if he would be willing to have the journalism school at Arizona State University named after him. Cronkite immediately agreed. The ASU program acquired status and respect from its namesake.
Cronkite was not just a namesake, but he also took the time to interact with the students and staff of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Cronkite made the trip to Arizona annually to present the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism to a leader in the field of media.
"The values that Mr. Cronkite embodies – excellence, integrity, accuracy, fairness, objectivity – we try to instill in our students each and every day. There is no better role model for our faculty or our students." said Dean Christopher Callahan.
The school, with approximately 1,200 majors, is widely regarded as one of the top journalism schools in the country. It is housed in a new facility in downtown Phoenix that is equipped with 14 digital newsrooms and computer labs, two TV studios, 280 digital student work stations, the Cronkite Theater, the First Amendment Forum, and new technology. The school's students regularly finish at the top of national collegiate journalism competitions, such as the Hearst Journalism Awards program and the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards. In 2009, students won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for college print reporting.
In 2008, The state-of-the-art journalism education complex in the heart of ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus was also built in his honor. The Walter Cronkite Regents Chair in Communication seats the Texas College of Communications dean.
Walter Cronkite Papers
The Walter Cronkite papers are preserved at the curatorial Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Occupying 293 linear feet (almost 90 metres) of shelf space, the papers document Cronkite's journalism career. Amongst the collected material are Cronkite's early beginnings while he still lived in Houston. They encompass his coverage of World War II as a United Press International correspondent, where he cemented his reputation by taking on hazardous overseas assignments. During this time he also covered the Nuremberg war crimes trial serving as the chief of the United Press bureau in Moscow. The main content of the papers documents Cronkite's career with CBS News between 1950 and 1981.
The Cronkite Papers assemble a variety of interviews with U.S. presidents from Herbert Hoover to Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. President Lyndon Johnson requested a special interview with Cronkite while he was broadcasting live on CBS.
Between 1990 and 1993 Don Carleton, executive director for the Center for American History, assisted Cronkite as he compiled an oral history to write his autobiography, A Reporter's Life, which was published in 1996.The taped memoirs became an integral part of an eight-part television series Cronkite Remembers, which was shown on the Discovery Channel.
As a newsman, Cronkite devoted his attention to the early days of the space program, and the "space race" between the United States and the Soviet Union. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration honoured Cronkite on February 28, 2006. Michael Coats, director of NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, presented Cronkite with the Ambassador of Exploration Award. Cronkite was the first non-astronaut thus honoured.
NASA presented Cronkite with a moon rock sample from the early Apollo expeditions spanning 1969 to 1972.Cronkite passed on the moon rock to Bill Powers, president of the University of Texas at Austin, and it became part of the collection at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Carleton said at this occasion, "We are deeply honored by Walter Cronkite’s decision to entrust this prestigious award to the Center for American History. The Center already serves as the proud steward of his professional and personal papers, which include his coverage of the space program for CBS News. It is especially fitting that the archive documenting Walter's distinguished career should also include one of the Moon rocks that the heroic astronauts of the Apollo program brought to Earth."